Tuesday, September 29, 2020

1985 Alpine - Around The Web

Despite being both a childhood favorite and a a figure I hold dear to this day, I don't get much use out of my Alpine figures.  I have far fewer photos of him than I should...especially when you consider that I've always had properly scaled boulders around my yard that would be a perfect setting for photos with him.  Fortunately, lots of other more talented photographers haven't had my limitations.  And, there's tons of great Alpine content out there.  Here's some of the best from around the web.

1985 Alpine Profile

Risco - Argentina Alpine Profile

Alpine Video Review

Alpine by strikeforce_codename

Alpine by thedustinmccoy

Alpine by badgerscratch

Alpine by Slipstream80

Alpine by thedustinmccoy 02

Alpine by specialmissionforce

Alpine by steelbrigade

Alpine by thedustinmccoy

Alpine by joerizzo2025

Saturday, September 26, 2020

20th Anniversary Key Moments - Black Major Cobra Mortal

 Around 2009, bootleg Cobra Troopers began to show up.  At first, the figures were all Cobra blue and made to match the original Hasbro release.  Slowly, though, new, exclusive color schemes began to appear.  Collectors quickly adopted the new designs and the first factory custom figures were a huge success that flourished among collectors of the era.  Around 2010, the second figure mold for factory customs appeared.  This time, it was a V1 Snake Eyes mold.  While this may seem odd, the figure was quickly painted into Cobra Invasors and Cobra Mortals and sold to collectors who craved these characters in cheaper and more useful color varieties.

One of the first figures I reviewed when I restarted this blog in 2012 was the Black Major blue Cobra Mortal.  This figure resonated with me since the Mortal character worked better with both a less ostentatious outfit and also colors that were more in line with early Cobra from 1982 and 1983.  This blue figure fit both criteria and quickly became one of my prominent figures in photos from the time.  

Even today, this remains one of my favorite Black Major figures.  The blue matches the classic Cobra Trooper blue.  And, the swivel head also matches pre-1985 figures.  In short, it's a perfect match for early Joe figures.  Early Cobra was short on characters who wouldn't become main characters.  So, having a chance at some figures to represent foreign characters that could fill in middle management roles in Cobra is welcomed.

In the years since, there's been a small, vocal contingent of collectors who are against Black Major figures.  But, in the past decade, these factory customs are all vintage Joe collectors have left.  Hasbro turned their backs on that style and not even a "retro" line was enough to bring back the classic look.  So, fortunately, these figures exist to keep collectors engaged...even if Hasbro doesn't care.

2010 Black Major Cobra Mortal, Cobra Invasor, Red Shadows, Palitoy, Shadowtrack, Cobra Trooper

Thursday, September 24, 2020

1988 Star Viper - Around The Web

The Star Viper isn't a figure that gets a lot of attention.  Collectors don't love space figures.  And, his relatively common release year means that he doesn't have the cachet of a low production 1994 Star Brigade figure.  A memorable comic run, though, is more than most of his contemporaries received.  And, as such, there's a decent amount of material on him available online.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Star Viper Profile

Star Viper by funtimeatserpentorslair

Star Viper by thedustinmccoy

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

2004 Anti Venom Duke

In the 2000's, Hasbro continually returned to long time fan favorite molds.  The issue, though, is that while collectors loved the original releases, the post vintage takes on fan classics were rarely upgrades over the vintage figure.  Instead, many of the redos of the pinnacles of the vintage line were sorry retreads that more showed the flaws of fan favorites rather than improving upon them.  This is personified in no greater way than the absolutely terrible repaints of the version 1 Duke mold.  The 1997 figure was an embarrassment.  Hasbro's second attempt to take on the character's iconic look was in 2004 and it wasn't much better than the version from 7 years prior.  The Anti Venom Duke is not a good figure and really doesn't have much going for it.  But, it's a take on the classic Duke and is a part of the best G.I. Joe themed 6 pack of the repaint era.

Duke was simply out of place in this pack.  The set included the Roadblock and Barricade molds from 1992, the 1988 Charbroil, the 1990 Stretcher, a remade 1984 Mutt and this Duke.  While Duke kind of pairs with Mutt, the reality is that the mold is skinny and doesn't fit with the bulkier molds from later years that made up the majority of the set.  In 2004, it had been a long time since the original Duke mold had appeared.  And, the 1992 Duke (which is a great update for Duke) had been used in 2000 and planned for 2003.  So, it made some sense for Hasbro to return to the original look for the first sergeant.  But, we later learned that Hasbro had access to the 1993 Duke mold.  This set would have been a great opportunity for that mold to appear.  But, that Duke features a molded helmet and would not have meshed with the idea of Steel Brigade helmets that Hasbro used as the Anti Venom set's primary gimmick.  A quick kitbash might have solved that.  But, instead, Hasbro brought back this old mold.

This figure really has two flaws.  The first is that he has a painted head.  Instead of the head being cast in flesh colored plastic with eyes and hair painted on, it is covered in flesh toned paint.  This is problematic for two reasons.  First, the paint just looks terrible.  Secondly, the figure is meant to wear a helmet.  And, the act of putting that helmet on and taking it off will wear off the paint.  So, the figure has a design flaw at its core.  This is especially maddening because the unproduced variants of the Anti Venom set featured plastic molded heads instead of painted.  They looked immensely better and would have held up to wear much better.  Duke's second major flaw is the Gung Ho arms.  These arms are scrawny as they were meant to be bare arms with no sleeves.  They are smooth and without detail.  Painted up, they look out of place.  Full arm sleeves are particularly egregious as there's no folds or seams to give the figure more heft.  While also overused, the 1984 Thunder arms would have been a much better choice and done wonders to improve this figure.

As such, this Duke is pretty terrible.  The head looks too big for the chest.  The arms are way to skinny.  And, the juxtaposition of the green upper body and tan lower body really doesn't work as well as you'd think it would.  This is especially unfortunate because the chest is actually kind of nice.  The silver against the dark green is a nice look that brings out the Duke mold more than the golden highlights against tan did in 1984.  With proper arms and a non-painted head, this Duke would be a worthy successor to the original version.  But, those two pesky choices by the designers really limit this figure and ruin an otherwise useful release.

The Anti Venom set has aged well.  The choice of molds combined with good colors and original gear has kept it a fan favorite.  The AV set was well received (as far as Joe themed sets went!) in 2004 and was the first non army builder to really appreciate on the secondary market.  With only around 16,000 sets produced, a little bit of popularity will drive up demand artificially.  But, the set has always been held in high regard by collectors.  The Duke, though, is usually the lone exception.  With some other sets, there are only one or two good figures and you'll pay a premium for them while the set's duds linger for a fraction of the price.  In this set, all of the other 5 figures are good.  Duke is lone misfire.  But, as you're 5/6 of the ways to a complete set with the good figures, Duke gets caught up in the completist mentality and many collectors finish the set with him just to have the entire team.

While this was just the second repaint of Duke in this parts combination, Hasbro quickly overdid it.  Aside from the fact that there are two unproduced Anti Venom Duke variants (dark blue and light blue), Hasbro used the mold with a new head for a comic pack in 2005.  This Duke was based on the coloring of the original figure.  But, it's much worse.  It's one of the more terrible releases of the 2000's as the paint is bad and the figure quality is poor, too.  If that weren't enough, Hasbro released this mold in the HAS set in 2005.  That Duke just has differently colored pants.  That's it.  It's one of the laziest figures Hasbro ever did.  But, in some ways, it's better than this Anti Venom figure since the colors don't clash as much.  Hasbro planned to bring the body with the comic pack head back in 2010 or so for a "Then and Now" set.  Unproduced samples of this figure exist.  It would have been better than the Comic Pack figure and the HAS version and, probably, this version, too.  It didn't happen, though, and collectors are just left with terrible takes on the V1 Duke mold.  At least Chinese Dukes were cheap and plentiful for a while in the early 2010's....

The Anti-Venom accessories, overall, were pretty good.  Duke's, though, were not.  While Barricade, Roadblock, Charbroil and Lifeline all included at least some parts from their original releases (or, in Roadblock's case, from his classic 1984 release), Duke did not.  Instead, he was given a black pistol from the 1986 Lifeline (that's oversized and always been a release I felt was lacking) and a JvC era newly sculpted weapon that featured a sight and grenade launcher.  This gun is, actually, well sculpted.  But, it's also useless since it doesn't have a stock to hold it in place with the figure.  It's one of those weapons that looks OK until you try to use it.  And, once you realize how worthless it is when trying to pose a figure, you grow to hate the gun just on its lack of merit.  Duke, of course, includes the modified Steel Brigade helmet with "Duke" emblazoned across the back.  It's good for Cobra to know who they're shooting in the back, I guess.  You'll see in all the photos below that I've attempted different accessory combos with this figure to find something that really works.  The Ripcord rifle seems to have distinguished itself as my favorite.  Which is kind of odd considering that in all my years of collecting I've only ever used Ripcord rifles with Ripcord, Airborne and a custom character made from Flint, Footloose and Snake Eyes parts.

So, Anti Venom pricing is just dumb.  While carded sets were running around $125 for a while, they seem to have fallen back into the $80 range on the open market.  But, here's the thing: even this craptastic Duke is expensive if you want him on his own.  Dealers will get $30-$40 for a mint and complete figure.  But, even open market figures will top $30.  If you want to sacrifice the helmet, you can get a copy of the figure for around $10.  But, there's really no in between.  If you don't have the Anti Venom figures, I'd still suggest buying a carded set and opening it as it's the cheapest way to get all the figures.  (Oddly, you can get loose, mint and complete sets for about the same price as a mint and complete Roadblock.)  Aside from that, I'd NEVER buy this Duke.  He's awful and not worth anything more than a couple of bucks.  But, newer collectors don't really understand that there's way more of these figures in the collector market than there are collectors.  And, once old timers realize they can get $30 for shitty figures like this, they will come out in force.

2004 Anti Venom Duke, Toys R Us Exclusive, 2005 Comic Pack Flint

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, Duke

2004 Anti Venom Barricade, Duke

Thursday, September 17, 2020

2003 Python Patrol Major Bludd - Around The Web

The Python Patrol Major Bludd figure was not well liked upon his release.  Many collectors disdained the figure for simply not being an army builder.  17 years later, though, Major Bludd has help up the best of the 2003 Python Patrol figures.  His unique coloring and lone character was not lost in the sea of army builders that followed.  And, the fact that he used a unique parts combination has made him more interesting than many of the other figures of the era that were straight repaints.  Here's the best of him from around the web.

Python Patrol Major Bludd Profile

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

1993 Barricade

One of the odd phenomenon in my collection is that figure's I missed out at certain points in my collecting life take on importance far beyond their merit.  The first, of course, is the 1986 Dialtone.  My younger brother got the figure before me and 34 years later, I'm still picking up new Dialtone figures in an attempt to salve that wound.  From my college, fresh collector years, though, these figures are defined by characters that looked great on the cardbacks but I could never find at retail.  The Headhunter and the Flak Viper are the two who most stick out.  To this day, I can't get enough of them.  Another figure who intrigued me from cardbacks of the era was Barricade.  I never found him.  But, unlike many other figures who drove obsession, I didn't acquire a Barricade figure as part of a targeted purchase. Instead, he showed up in a lot of many other figures I missed at retail in the mid 1990's.  In the awesomeness that was discovering dozens of new figures I had never owned before, Barricade was overlooked and neglected.  His design just wasn't enough to capture my attention over other figures.  In the decades since, though, I've grown to like Barricade.  And, this 1993 repaint is one of the reasons why.

I've been singing the praises of neon Joes since they were still at retail.  General Hawk and I were about the only two collectors willing to commit the sacrilege of acknowledging the G.I. Joe line continued past 1987...must less 1989.  In those early days of a online collecting, no one cared about 1990's figures and they openly ridiculed anything neon.  Back then, the rare message was that the 1990's molds were great and would benefit from a repaint.  And, in cases where these repaints occurred, we were proven right.  But, neon figures have their own charm.  And, in the late 2010's and into 2020, neon Joes have taken on a new life and become collectible.  The eye catching colors are attractive to younger collectors who grew up with toys using these colors.  The lower production runs and lower profile in the existing collecting world have also made the figures expensive.

This 1993 Barricade, though, only fits half that description.  While not all that easy to find (none of the 1993 repaints of 1992 molds are...) Barricade remains cheap.  Mostly due to his obscure character and some limitations of the mold, Barricade remains one of the high quality 1990's releases that has yet to catch the collecting world's eye.  But, knowing how obscure this figure has been in even my collection, I can see why this is the case.  While Barricade is decent enough, the bulbous helmet is a far cry from his card artwork appearance.  (Which, to be fair, is way more Robocop than anything made in 1992 should have been.)  That alone is enough to relegate him to subordinate status...especially when taken against figures like Shockwave V2, Bulletproof, General Flagg, Gung Ho and Cutter who debuted the same year.  

But, the figure still has some merit.  I'm a sucker for orange figures...just because they bring such visual stimulation to the line.  And, Barricade's body mold is useful with the large swaths of armor.  (His head is less ideal, with the cockeyed grin.  But, is still an impressive feat of sculpting for the time.)  With a couple of extra paint applications, this figure could have really popped.  But, the simplicity of the gold and orange works within the context of his release year.  Brightly colored toys are fun.  And, even today, any licensed line is light on color.  Star Wars has gone gritty.  Batman, too.  It's rare to find a toy line what features eye popping characters that are fun for kids to play with.  Barricade reminds of a time when that wasn't true.

Which isn't to say that this is an essential figure.  Had I found this guy back in the '90's, I'm sure I'd have picked him up.  But, by then, I was buying everything that I didn't already own.  But, this figure does fit well with many others released in 1993.  Outback, Mirage, Mutt, Snow Storm, Long Arm, Cross Country, Muskrat and Wet Suit all feature shades of orange coloring.  It turns out, orange was a popular color that year.  But, some of that consistency is kind of fun.  Grouping figures like these together makes for bright, vibrant photos.  And, as they are less often seen, the figures are unique when used in dios and such.  That's not a great life for this Barricade.  But, it's far better than that of many of his contemporaries.  

Gold plastic is the bane of collectors.  Gold plastic from the 1990's is notoriously brittle.  While the color isn't overly common the Joe line, it did appear on some figures in the 1990's, this Barricade being one of them.  The gold plastic used for the figure's crotch snaps without any real effort.  And, because of that, it's really common to find otherwise mint and complete Barricade figures with broken crotches.  Fortunately, it doesn't seem that the gold on this figure has started to break down like some other toys lines have seen.  But, you have to be careful posing Barricade or sitting him in vehicles as slight pressure will snap his crotch right off.

Barricade's gear is the same as the 1992 version's.  The base blue colors make less sense now that they appear against the red/orange base color of this repaint.  But, the gold and red helmet better matches with this version of Barricade.  So, you win some, you lose some.  The gear is still solid enough.  The machine gun looks good.  And, getting a backpack to which you could attach the missile launcher was at least practical.  I still feel that Barricade's helmet is his weakest point and could have been better.  But, at least he had a helmet and his is not the worst helmet to be used in 1993.  But, there's little else to say about his gear.  Honestly, with just his gun, the figure is just as good as if you have him complete. 

Barricade got a few uses.  After his debut in 1992, Hasbro released the mold in the final two years of the line.  First, this 1993 figure appeared.  Then, in 1994, Hasbro repainted and re-characterized the mold as Gears.  In 1994, the figure's waist and legs were used for the Cobra Blackstar figure.  Barricade then disappeared for a decade before making a surprise appearance in the 2004 Anti-Venom set.  This is, easily the best version of Barricade as the tan and copper color scheme shows that the mold had untapped potential leftover from the 1990's.  There are two unproduced Anti-Venom Barricade figures: a light blue and dark blue version to be on the lookout for, too.  For some reason, there are releases of Roadblock named Barricade on foreign cardbacks.  (The Chinese version is the most common.)  Barricade works as an alternative name for Roadblock.  But, that's more a trivia question than any actual connection to the Barricade character.  The character even appeared as an overpriced club exclusive in 2016.  If you care about Barricade there's lots of ways to show your appreciation.

1993 Barricade figures are not pricey.  While dealers will sell a lot of mint and complete figures in the $15-$20 range, it's about a $6 figure when left to the open market.  Carded figures can be had for around $18 on the open market, too.  But, like most figures, the open market sales are drying up as professional dealers gobble up overstock and then determine pricing by simply not letting the market decide the value of the figures.  For $6, this figure is fun to have and has some value.  Much beyond that, though, is an overpay.  You're far better off getting the blue 1992 version or the 2004 Anti Venom version of Barricade.  Those are better figures.  But, this orange version is fun and is a nice reminder of the Joe line's neon years.

1993 Barricade, Battle Corps, Mutt, DEF

Saturday, September 12, 2020

1997 Stalker - Random Photos Of The Day

The 1997 Stalker figure is probably the best 1997 repaint.  And, he's one of the best repaints of the entire 1997-2006 era.  The deeper green color, more complex cammo pattern and additional paint applications all add up to a figure that's better than the original.  There was a lot of consternation over his black beret back in the 1990's.  But, really, it looks better with the rest of the figure than a green beret would.  The softer plastic also means this guy's thumbs, crotch and heels won't snap if you touch them.  This guy's now way older than 1983 Stalker's were when this 1997 figure debuted.  I still hold this figure, though, in the highest regard.  He's been profiled twice on the site and appears in dozens of photos.  He's just a figure that looks good.

1997 Stalker, GHSB, Gold Head Steel Brigade, Black Major, 2001, Tripwire, ARAHC, Rock and Roll, Red Laser Army, Sightline

1997 Stalker

Thursday, September 10, 2020

1986 Zarana - Around The Web

I was never a huge Zarana fan.  While I found a use for Zandar for a short while, Zarana never had that occur with her.  Her lack of firing weapon and general poor design left her as relatively useless for me.  My brother had the earrings head version which I thought looked like one of my aunts.  That's about the end of the pertinence Zarana had for me.  I didn't care for her being such a prominent character in the comics and would skip over the pages that featured her and Road Pig.  But, Zarana has found a large collecting audience since the 2000's and remains a popular figure.  As such, there's tons of great work that's been done with her.  Here's some of my favorite Zarana content from around the web.

1986 Zarana, Zartan's Sister, BATs, Battle Android Trooper

1986 Zarana, Zartan's sister, Dreadnok, Monkeywrench

1986 Zarana, Zartan's sister, Dreadnok, Monkeywrench

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Cobra De Aco - Black Major Version

There was a time in the Joe world where information was scarce.  We now know that the reason for this is that many collectors like to hoard information and keep it to themselves.  This gives them "credibility" in the Joe community.  The side effect of this is that bad information can quickly take on a lift of it's own.  And, in some cases, left unchecked, the bad information is perpetuated by an "official" release.  In the case of the Brazilian Cobra De Aco, bad information lead to a perception that the figure was among the rarest in the world.  Time has proven that false.  But, the damage was done as the figure remains far pricier than many of his harder to find contemporaries.  Fortunately, the Black Major dropped a version of the De Aco about a decade ago so that every collector would have a shot at the character.

So, as I held this figure for the first time, something dawned on me.  One of the reasons that the De Aco is so out of place is because of his color scheme.  Yellow isn't, traditionally, a Cobra color.  So, he's very distinctive when viewed through the lens of early Joe releases.  However, the Cobra De Aco was likely released in 1986.  If you look at the 1986 American releases, there is a figure that is very similar to De Aco's color scheme: the 1986 BAT.  It seems an unlikely coincidence that Brazil would release a figure with a chrome head and a color scheme to match the American android in the same year as that figure's debut.  Is the De Aco based on early renditions of the BAT?  Or, was the color scheme adopted in an attempt to have a release in Brazil that matched the American BAT?

International exclusive characters remain one of the great mysteries of the Joe world.  How did exclusives like the De Aco, Manleh, or even the European Mutt come to be?  Seeing the De Aco's similarity to the BAT, though, makes me think that the foreign companies had access to either abandoned Hasbro designs or to successful color palettes that were being introduced simultaneously in the U.S.  We have gotten a lot of great stories about the origins of the American line from some of the Joe creators.  But, we have not heard much of any collaboration with foreign Joe licensees (assuming such communication even occurred).  

Harsh reality time.  The Cobra De Aco isn't a good figure.  (The Cobra Mortal isn't, either.)  Were this an American release, collectors would deride it.  Were this an American release from the 1990's, the figure would be a joke.  But, because the De Aco was an exotic oddity, a mystique built up around it.  That aura was augmented with the 30th Anniversary card set released in 1994.  Here, the De Aco made his most famous debut with the tagline that "no mint samples have been identified thus far".  This made many collectors think the figure simply didn't exist.  But, the explosion of the internet proved that wrong.  By 1998, it was well known that the De Aco was very obtainable from Brazil and that another figure featuring a chrome Snake Eyes, the Cobra Mortal from Argentina, was both rarer and more interesting than the De Aco.  

If you were around online Joedome in the late 1990's, the De Aco vs. Mortal was a common thread where people would argue vehemently about the rarity of one of the other.  As photos were much harder to take, scan, post and send in those days, there was little proof.  But, as digital cameras and broadband permeated the collector base, it was quickly shown that the De Aco was, really, a common Brazilian release that was readily available.  The popularity of the figure and the aura built around it in the years prior, though, kept the price high.  But, as the economic crisis in Argentina in the early 2000's brought a decent amount of the rare 2nd series Plastirama figures (the 6 (SIX!!!!) figure wave that included the Mortal) to the market, it was proven out that the Argentine figures were rarer, more desirable and would forever be more expensive than the once mighty De Aco.

For me, this figure is useless, though.  Sure, he has visual appear.  But, he's straight arm.  I don't collect straight arm Joes.  I don't collect them because the simple addition of swivel arm battle grip was the difference between G.I. Joe being a few month fad in 1982 and being a nearly 40 year long obsession.  I don't own Joes for collectibility.  I own them for the toys they are.  And, straight arm figures are bad toys.  

All of this leads to the baffling question as to why this figure features straight arms.  At the time, many customers clamored for a swivel arm version.  But, for the sake of authenticity, those calls were resisted.  And, we got a straight arm figure.  As repaints of the figure became available (some of them amazing updates that are way better than the original....) they began to include alternate heads.  Modeled on the Gas Mask Trooper, these heads allowed the De Aco bodies to be used for troop builders.  Had they come with an alternate pair of swivel arms instead, these figures would have sold out far more quickly than they did.  With the straight arms, the various repaints of this mold were available for years...often at or below the original prices.  It's only been since 2018 that they have dried up.  Red Laser also make a version of the De Aco.  It was meant to have swivel arms to fill the gap left by this Black Major original.  However, a factory mix up resulted in Red Laser's figure also having straight arms.  Today, there is no version of the De Aco available with swivel arms.  There are Cobra Mortals with swivel arms.  But, no De Acos.  It remains a huge hole in the collecting world.  But, as we've had two homages released with straight arms, it doesn't seem likely that a swivel arm De Aco will ever be a thing.

And, that's a shame.  I love having new characters in pre-1985 construction to mesh with my early Cobras.  The early Black Major Cobra Invasors and Mortals are excellent ways to augment the sparse early Cobra field leaders.  Having De Aco would further expand their ranks in excellent ways.  And, I suppose, standing this figure among Cobra hierarchy would work.  But, that's not where I find value in figures.  I enjoy posing them, photographing them and letting them appear as toys.  With a straight arm De Aco, I can't do that.  So, the character has died on the vine and has no relevance to me.

Collectors still think that 2007 was the heyday of modern collecting.  Some will even argue that it's happening right now, in 2020 with the Classified figures.  But, the real pinnacle of the online Joe collecting era began in 2001, expanded through 2003 and didn't really die off until after the 2005 G.I. Joe convention.  As Joe started to become something that had collecting buzz around it, dealers took notice.  Quickly, they jumped into the Joe world, thinking it was going to be Star Wars or Hot Wheels.  And, for a short time, it was.  Back then, you could still find large collections at garage sales, thrift stores and even comic shops for paltry sums.  So, dealers could get stock.  But, those trying to get ill-informed toy show prices for figures soon learned the perils of the cheap Joe collectors.  Nonetheless, some dealers tried to buy their way into the market by leading with rare figures.  But, as these dealers knew little about Joe, they'd make gaffes along the way.

Starting in late 2001, I and other collectors started getting emails from various toy dealers.  They were almost always peddling Cobra De Aco figures.  They'd repeat the no known mint versions line in an attempt to sell the figures.  One major toy dealer (he's still around, today) reached out to try to sell me a De Aco for $1,000.  I told him, at best, his figure was a $200 example.  He dropped the no mint figures line.  At which point, I sent him a link to Ebay listings with five or six De Acos, all sold for less than my quoted price.  The dealer never contacted me again and the De Aco sat on his website for many, many years.  Many of my friends reported the same.  Along with these dealer inquiries, we'd get unsolicited offers from Brazilian Joe sellers all the time.  Funnily enough, they'd lead with the De Aco.  But, then, you could get '90's era Brazilian exclusives (many MOC) from them for absurdly cheap prices.  It was through one such interaction that I acquired several of my now expensive Brazilian figures for peanuts.

You would think that the guys who fancy themselves the "Guardians of Joe" would have been up in arms about this De Aco.  They weren't.  Why?  Simple, none of them own enough De Acos to worry about the impact these Black Major and Red Laser figures would have on the market.  Besides, it's been proven again and again that factory customs tend to increase the values of the original figures upon which they are based.  But, all the anti-Black Major guys were silent on this figure.  Only Starduster upset them.  That should tell you all you need to know about their true intentions.  The upside is that a lot of collectors got a chance to own both a cheap version of De Aco, but also a version that could be used for photos, dios and other activities.  That's always good for the community.  And, this figure has given the De Aco a chance to grow out of his status as a rare oddity and into something that has some value to the Joe world.  If he only had swivel arms....

Fun fact, the mold used for this De Aco is the same chest mold used on the Sightline figure.  The De Aco has an extraordinarily large backpack hole.  This feature carried over to Sightline and is why Sightline can't wear his backpack without some modifications to make the backpack peg bigger.  This larger hole is also the obvious tell on the factory custom De Acos over those made by Estrela.  Aside from that, the yellow is different, the Cobra logos are a dead giveaway, there's a tag on the figure's leg and the entire mold feels very different from an Estrela figure.  In short, there's no mistaking this figure for an original.

20 years ago, a real Cobra De Aco would have cost you $300.  Now, a real Cobra De Aco will still run you around $300.  It's a pretty steep fall from grace for a figure going from one of the most expensive Joes in the world to not even the most expensive figure from Brazil.  If you want a Factory Custom version, you can get them in the $20-$25 range.  Most of the figures that are currently available, though, are the Red Laser's Army version of the De Aco instead of this older Black Major figure.  I have not owned a Red Laser version, so I can't speak to the differences between the two.  But, the later releases will keep prices of the Black Major version in the same ballpark.  If you don't mind straight arms, that's not a terrible price to get something like De Aco.  But, for me, the limiting construction also limits his value and it's unlikely you'll see this figure appear in many photos going forward.

Cobra De Aco, Brazil, Steel Cobra, Estrela, Black Major, Factory Custom, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, 1988 Bugg, Secto Viper, 1986 Bats, Battle Android Trooper

Cobra De Aco, Brazil, Steel Cobra, Estrela, Black Major, Factory Custom, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, 1988 Bugg, Secto Viper, 1986 Bats, Battle Android Trooper, Cobra Trooper, Cobra Soldado

Cobra De Aco, Brazil, Steel Cobra, Estrela, Black Major, Factory Custom, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, 1988 Bugg, Secto Viper

Cobra De Aco, Brazil, Steel Cobra, Estrela, Black Major, Factory Custom, Red Laser Army, Bootleg, 1988 Bugg, Secto Viper, 1986 Bats, Battle Android Trooper

Thursday, September 3, 2020

1993 HEAT Viper - Around The Web

This HEAT Viper repaint isn't great.  But, the bright green is actually kind of fun and makes for a visually striking action figure.  Done differently, the figure still has some limitations.  But, one of the great customs of the early online Joe community was a Snake Eyes using the chest from this figure.  It proved the sculpt had potential.  Oddly, the figure was released in Brazil as a good guy, Raio Verde.  But, the figure was also in bright green and isn't all that different from this version.  I do enjoy this guy, though, for what he is and it's nice to have a couple of them lying around.  Here's the best of the 1993 HEAT Viper from around the web.

1993 HEAT Viper, Battle Corps

1993 HEAT Viper, Battle Corps, Bulletproof, DEF

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

2006 Viper - Viper Pit

Army building is heavily a phenomenon of adult collecting.  It spawns from the fantasies that we all had as kids of owning as many toys as you could possibly want.  Truthfully, army building something to great degrees is probably extremely unhealthy, obsessive behavior.  But, in collecting circles, it's not looked upon as that.  Instead, it is celebrated.  It is a cause of jealousy.  And, in the early 2000's, it was the fastest way "in" to be considered a "serious collector".  Back then, though, it was all about army building at retail.  In the end, all it proved was that you were good at shopping.  Despite collectors clamoring to buy up every retail army builder they saw during that time, Hasbro was able to sate demand.  Every few months, new army builders would appear.  Rarely were they perfect.  And, most times, they were downright flawed.  As the swan song of the Joe line, though, Hasbro dropped one final army building set on the collecting world.  At first glance, it was perfect: six classic Vipers done up in classic colors.  There was no way it wouldn't be a hit.  And, a hit it was.  So much so, that Hasbro did a second production run to get them into collector hands.  But, in the 14+ years since this set debuted, the flaws that were apparent upon its release have only become more pronounced.

If you were a fan of this set, or if you weren't a fan of this set, it was maddening.  If you loved 6 of, essentially, the same figure in colors like very common (and falling in price) original Joes, this set was frustrating because Hasbro only ever delivered two army building sets in that vein.  The rest featured characters, odd mold choices or bizarre colors.  If you didn't like this set and wished they had gone with a variety of Viper colors as the line's final send off, well, you knew that your desires would never be fulfilled.  Either way, though, collectors bought the set up.  Knowing it was the final release in the line helped to drive demand.  But, the fact that the 6 Vipers in the set were excellent stand ins for the original figure (and, in some ways superior) only helped the set's popularity.

But, with heavy purchase volume came issues.  The corners that Hasbro was cutting in terms of design and materials came to roost on this set.  The o-rings were bad.  The joints were stiff.  And, worst of all, the crotch piece was not properly designed with the upper legs and many collectors simply sheared away the little piece of plastic just by trying to sit the figure in a vehicle.  The drooping heads that were a hallmark of all Vipers released from 1997 and on were even more pronounced on these figures.  All of these issues combined to make the figures not only awkward to pose, but a downright liability to move around for fear of breakage.  All these years later, this set's poor quality continues to be it's hallmark and comments sections are filled with criticism of these figures for their brittle nature.

The actual set, though, did look good.  It included one gold face plated Viper and 5 silver faced Vipers: the subject of this profile.  The paint masks on the set were convention set level quality.  This figure features two-toned gloves, a very finely detailed Cobra logo, silver buckles on his chest and metallic grenades.  He features substantially more paint applications than the 1986 Viper.  And, even more than the retail Vipers that Hasbro had been pumping out since 2002.  From a pure aesthetic point of view, this was one of the best Vipers ever produced.

As this was the final Joe product to be released before the anniversary debacle, I bought this set heavily.  I figured I'd never regret getting cheap Vipers.  And, back then, I still had delusions of a massive collection display that would include a magnificent Cobra rally.  But, even if that didn't come to fruition, having a large quantity of Vipers available for photos, dios and just general purpose was enticing.  And, in the package, the set didn't disappoint.  But, once opened, the quality issues that others found also limited my use of these figures.  To this day, the figure rarely appears in any photos because the figures are so difficult to pose.  

Personally, I enjoyed the Viper Pit's weapons.  The Ambush rifle in grey is decent enough.  The fact that I had used the version of it from the 1994 Flint with my 1994 Vipers also gave it a nostalgic bent for me.  The little pistols were nice add ons.  The 1992 Gung Ho backpacks are fine.  The big win, though, was the inclusion of the machine guns.  This sculpt was from a JvC era figure.  But, it worked well enough with the ARAH figure scale.  And, it looks great with the Viper.  I've always liked Vipers or Troopers to be self sufficient.  So, Troopers having heavy machine guns, mortars or bazookas was fine by me.  The Viper including this machine gun works in the same vein.  It allows the Vipers to have heavier fire support and makes them a more formidable force.  To me, this was the only value in the Viper Pit set.  I was able to get some cheap Vipers that had different weapons to use.

Beyond that, though, this set's value is limited.  If you want to stand them all up in a row on a shelf, this set looks really nice.  The excellent paint masks and solid gear make for a visual treat and one of the better looking figures from the repaint era.  But, that's the extent of their use.  Once you want to use them in photos, dios or displays, the severe limitations of the poor quality become way to apparent.  You can't really pose the figures and any sudden movement may leave you with a snapped crotch.  Over the years, I've tried to get them into more photos.  But, the stiff legs hinder even cautious movement and I've had more than a dozen of the o-rings snap just in proper storage.  So, the figure's visual appeal is more than offset by the quality issues and that has left these figures with a legacy that is far below what a cursory visual inspection would imply.

One fun fact about this Viper Pit set is that it included one filecard for all 6 figures.  We do not know the production runs on this set.  At the time, Toys R Us ordered around 20,000 Cobra sets when they sold vintage Joe 6 packs.  But, they also only ordered around 16,000 Joe themed sets of the same product.  It's likely that the first Viper Pit production run was in that ballpark.  The initial production run sold out at most online dealers relatively quickly.  Hasbro then produced a second, distinct run of the figures to help sate demand.  And, sate it, that extra run did.  The second production run lingered at retail and quickly stagnated as collectors had moved on and the anniversary collectors who were starting to come online didn't care about vintage style Joes.  As late as 2013, you could still buy packaged sets at dealers for original retail cost.  The filecard and production numbers are related, though, in that there is, at best, one filecard per every 6 figures that Hasbro released.  This means the filecard is, likely, one of the rarest filecards per figure in the line's history.  It's not a great filecard.  But, the fact that only 1 in 6 figures at max could possibly have the filecard, it's worth noting and holding onto any filecards you may have.

My final take on these figures is that, for the right price, they are good stand ins for the classic Viper.  But, that's about it.  Among the late Viper repaints that Hasbro created after 1994, this version falls in the middle.  The paint masks make it more interesting than most of the retail Vipers of the 2000's.  But, the 1998 Cobra Trooper and Officer and the 2002 Crimson Viper match the paint masks and have the added benefit of bringing something relatively new to the mold in terms of coloring.  So, that also means this figure is something skipable.  I'd rather have a ton of other figures than these Vipers.  But, the realities of retail in the 2000's made it possible to acquire a large amount of these figures.  And, the economic realities of the early 2010's when I went to sell off a large part of my collection meant that these figures were worth less than retail and weren't worth selling at that time.  So, even today, I have a massive bin full of these Vipers...that I never use.  Every now and then, I'll check on them to find a few more have snapped their o-rings.  But, that's about the extent of their value.  In today's market, it might be worth exploring their trade potential.  But, again, that's about all the purpose I can find for them.

Viper Pit Vipers are oddly priced.  Loose, mint and complete figures sell in the $12-$15 range.  (Dealers sell a farcical amount at $20, too!)  But, you can get an entire set of 6 loose figures for around $40 with a little patience.  That's a far better deal.  Dealers tend to sell loose and complete sets for about the same price as carded sets.  But, even carded sets top out around $60 in the open market.  That's quite a jump from where these figures were just 5 or 6 years ago.  But, it's also not nearly the leap we've seen with some of the other 6 figure sets that were produced in the same time frame.  But, collectors bought all of the Viper Pits and the later production run put way too many into the marketplace.  14 years after the set's release, this means that people can now get the figures for not too great a markup.  But, the relatively poor design choices have left this Viper as a poor substitute for the original and the demand for this figure reflects that.

2006 Viper, Viper Pit, DTC, TRU Exclusive, GHSB, Steel Brigade, Black Major, Gold Head Steel Brigade

2006 Viper, Viper Pit, DTC, TRU Exclusive

2006, Viper, Viper Pit, Cobra Viper, DTC Exclusive, TRU